Learning to code? These are the programming languages creating the biggest buzz

The developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk has compared its Programming Language Rankings dating back to 2012.

If you're wondering which programming languages are worth studying, RedMonk has revealed the changing fortunes of different languages over the past six years.

The developer-focused analyst firm has compared its Programming Language Rankings dating back to 2012.

RedMonk's language rankings are designed to reflect how much code is being written and the level of discussion online. RedMonk creates them by combining the language rankings from online code repository GitHub and developer Q&A site Stack Overflow.

The chart reveals the biggest climbers and sharpest fallers, which are explained in more detail below.

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Image: RedMonk

Biggest climbers

Swift rose from 18 to 11 - 2015 to 2019

Swift is Apple's successor to Objective-C for programming iOS and macOS devices.

Swift is interoperable with Objective-C and offers a modern syntax that allows developers to jettison the decades-old baggage of the C language.

An easy language to learn, it is designed to rival Objective-C for type safety, security, and performance, running more than 2.6x faster than Objective-C and more than 8.4x faster than Python.

R rose from 17 to 14 - 2012 to 2019

R is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing, commonly used in big-data analytics.

R has been credited with providing millions of data scientists and academic researchers with tools to share visualization and analysis techniques.

TechRepublic's Matt Asay points to R's extensive and fast-growing library of software packages as playing an important role in its success.

Go rose from 17 to 14 - 2015 to 2019

Prized for its speed, this Google-developed compiled language has built-in support for running code concurrently.

To an extent, Go protects developers, with its memory management and garbage collection making it difficult to make as many serious mistakes as when using C. Go is robust against errors thanks to its strong, static type safety, but also flexible in allowing dynamic typing via interfaces.

Go is used by many major companies, including Google, Dropbox, and Canonical — the company behind Ubuntu.

Biggest fallers

Perl fell from 11 to 18 - 2012 to 2019

Popular for web server scripting, sysadmin jobs, network programming and automating various tasks, Perl has been used since the late 1980s.

Users of Perl seem to blame its dwindling popularity on its idiosyncratic syntax and alternative scripting languages, such as Python and PHP, that have sprung up during its long lifespan.

Haskell fell from 13 to 19 - 2012 to 2019

Another venerable language, dating back to 1990, Haskell's functional programming style sidesteps the complexity of tracking a program's global state in favor of relying on self-contained, modular blocks of code that can be swapped in and out.

Functional languages like Haskell are particularly well-suited to executing code in parallel, because there are fewer opportunities for code to clash. Haskell is used by Facebook for spam filtering, as well as at Bloomberg and Google, and overall seems to be well-regarded among programmers, but has a reputation for being difficult to learn.

Ruby fell from 5 to 8 - 2012 to 2019

The language was a favorite among web developers in the 2000s, allowing developers to build and launch applications rapidly.

Despite its reputation for being easy to learn, it has been criticized for being difficult to scale and for its poor performance.

Many companies, including Twitter, abandoned Ruby for other languages that offer easier expansion and lower long-term costs, such as the MEAN stack, Python or Java, said Speros Misirlakis, head of curriculum at Coding Dojo, speaking to TechRepublic last year.

RedMonk also published its quarterly update to its programming rankings this month, revealing a list mostly unchanged from the previous quarter but with a few fast risers, such as the Python alternative Julia.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • The venerable scripting language Perl has plunged down RedMonk's Programming Rankings over the past six years.
  • Apple's Swift programming language, its successor to Objective-C, has shot up RedMonk's Programming Rankings in recent years.

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By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.